Salt Dough Animals


Slime is still trending, so I wanted to continue the exploration of slime and different gooey tactile materials with the children. This week I decided to try a classic recipe and make salt dough. Salt dough originated in ancient times. Back then, wheat flour, salt, and water were made into bread, a staple of ancient living. Today, we would probably find this type of bread not very appealing, when compared to the fluffy loafs we consume for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Often, different projects or materials create an emotional connection with the children. This emotional connection creates a desire to explore similar work frequently. As educators, when we observe leanings in children’s work choices, this creates a bridge for deeper exploration and collaboration.

Flour, salt, water, a measuring cup, and bowl were all the materials required to start making dough. After mixing the dry ingredients together, the water was slowly added while we hand mixed the dough. After a few minutes of kneading the first ball of dough was ready to be explored.

As we were mixing the dough a few of the children wanted to explore the wet ingredients and help knead the dough. The reactions of the children were mixed as some enjoyed the sensory experience, while others thought the mix was, “wet, cold, gross, and messy.”

The children approached their exploration of the dough in different ways. One group grabbed a large chunk of dough and experienced the properties of the dough by feeling the texture, smashing, and kneading the dough. During this exploration the children talked about the temperature of the dough, the texture, and if the dough felt wet or dry. A few children talked about the smell and texture of their hands as the salt and flour dried on them as they created with the material.

Children enjoy materials like dough, clay, and paint for the sensory experience, the same material adults may see useful only for creating an object. Children often are not concerned about making something, they are interested in what a material feels, smells, looks, and tastes like.

A different group of children arrived to the workspace and wanted to create. They took some dough and started sculpting. One child created a pizza slice complete with toppings. Another child made a figure that was large and round with different small pieces of dough attached to it. When I asked what they were working on the answer was, “I don’t know?” This was my clue the children were enjoying the experience and not concerned about what the dough ball was.

Children are often in the iteration business. They take a material that another child is using and think of new ways to create with the same material. Children use past knowledge of their explorers heart to try and squeeze out the possibilities a material has to offer. The children in this creative session were making a series of round shapes and attaching other parts to them. Only a few of the children wanted to share a story about their creations. As I watched them work I thought, “I don’t really need to know what they are creating” as my curiosity was not acknowledged during this work. Often talking to the children about their work is a technique I use to create a social connection with the children and be part of the experience.

The last group used cookie cutters and started cutting out shapes. The shapes were sea creatures like sea stars, sharks, and sea horses. The children pressed many shapes and we collected them to dry.

I was interested in the children’s choice to cut out shapes, instead of hand building. Their choice of technique gave me an idea to revisit the exploration in a few days, include some paint, and invite the children to add color to their sea creatures and keep the creativity going.

A few days later, our salt dough creations were dry and it was time to invite the children to add color. A colorful selection of tempera and small brushes were available for the children to paint with. This was a social time for the children, as the group talked and shared ideas about color choices and techniques for applying the paint to the semi-rough surface dried salt dough creates.

After all of the painting was complete I noticed that one shark was left unpainted. I asked the children who created it. None of the children were missing a shark, so I grabbed a brush and painted the last of the salt dough creations with the leftover paint.

I always look forward to joining in the creative work with the children. I am aware I could be focusing on observation and documentation, but I feel it is important for me to participate in the work with the school age children and strengthen our social connection. When I am working with the children I have to be aware if I am influencing the work of the children and step away if necessary.

During creative work how often do you create along with the children?